XML Sitemap: What It Is And Why You Should Have One

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A well-designed XML sitemap is a navigation path to all essential pages that are found on a website. This path serves as a guide for Google to find these pages. An XML sitemap helps SEO on a website and it enables search engines such as Google to find your pages swiftly, regardless of your website’s internal linking capability.

This article answers the question of what an XML sitemap is, and why you need it for your website’s performance and ranking improvement. 

XML sitemap: What it is

The place of a sitemap can be compared to your website interface and navigation mechanism. While on the homepage, a visitor can find every page from the menu, links and navigation bars. On the other hand, Google finds those pages and direct web users to them with an XML sitemap. Google crawls sitemaps to find a page that matches the query made by web users.

Every well-designed website is intended for Google to find the pages when crawled by bots. But since all pages are not all internally linked together, crawling becomes difficult. The use of an XML sitemap fills this gap.

The XML sitemap is a collection of important pages to assist Google in knowing what pages to crawl. Not all pages of a website are included in a sitemap though. An XML sitemap shows many index pages in categories such as pages, posts, videos, and others you deem important and which are included. With this categorization, clicking on each will give a list of all the pages under that category.

Dates are important in an XML sitemap. When set up, every page displays the dates these pages were included. At every update on the pages, the change in the date is a signal to Google to do another crawl. This is good for SEO, and shows the benefit of regularly updating a website's content.

In some situations, it is necessary to split the web addresses for a particular category when it is large. The maximum for a single XML sitemap is 50,000 posts. Splitting is good SEO practice. It helps to make finding pages faster. You may decide to have less than 2,000 per XML sitemap. Since the number of posts increases with time, it is usually the case to have more than one XML sitemap for the category of website posts.

Keep in mind that an XML sitemap is just one of similar tools for implementing a sitemap. An essential step to implement a sitemap is to create a file on your text editor, and upload it to your website’s root directory. This is the traditional method, and how it was manually done. Here are the steps:

Open a text editor like notepad.1. Type the web address or URL of the index page of your website, including the http://.2. Type the addresses of the other pages you want the sitemap created for in a similar fashion as above, one per line.3. Save the file with a .txt extension. You can name the file 'sitemap' to be sure. 4. Finally, upload to the website’s root directory.

With today’s plugins, having a sitemap is simpler than ever. All you need do is to install the plugin, especially if you use WordPress for your website. The Google sitemap generator is a typical example of a free plugin. Other contemporary sitemaps exist, such as the XML sitemap that is being considered here.

What sites require XML sitemaps?

According to Google's documentation on this, an XML sitemap will benefit “really large websites”, “websites which use rich media content”, “websites with large archives”, and “new websites with just a few external links”

Summing up Google's standpoint, almost all sites can benefit from using this sitemap, and others will not be hurt using it on their websites.

What pages should go into your XML sitemap?

What determines the pages that should be included in an XML sitemap is dependent on the relevance factor. Which pages will encourage people to regularly visit? Those are the URLs you should include in your XML sitemap. Keep in mind this does not stop your web pages from being indexed by Google if they are not included in the sitemap. Adding the ‘noindex, follow’ tag is all that can prevent such indexing from being implemented.

The example of a new blog

When a new blog is created and the author needs Google to the website quickly for the benefit of their target audience, the ideal thing is to create an XML sitemap immediately. Assuming the author has put up some categories and tags, these have scanty contents at the initial stage. To prevent visitors from viewing the pages at once, implementing “no index, follow” is recommended. The particular pages are also omitted from the XML files to completely hide them from visitors.

Example of images & media 

Images and media files don’t really need separate XML sitemaps. The reason is simple: they are part of a post or content in many websites. This is only required if your website or blog is image or video-focused, like photography websites.

How you can make Google locate your XML sitemap

If you intend Google to locate your website’s XML sitemap, you will need to add it to the Google Search Console profile. To find the sitemap on the console, locate ‘Crawl’, then click 'sitemap'. You should be able to tell if you have an XML sitemap added already, and if not, click on 'Add/Test sitemap'.

The benefits of having your XML sitemap added to the Search Console are the ability of know if all XML sitemap pages are indexed by Google, and to detect any errors in the XML sitemap. Make sure to analyze what is submitted, and what is indexed in the data provided. Errors can prevent pages from being indexed. You may verify this. Improving on the content quality can be a solution for non-indexed pages.

XML sitemaps and Yoast SEO

Yoast is one of the foremost SEO plugins for websites and blogs. Yoast SEO has included an XML sitemap in its plugins. You can get access to it in both the free and premium versions of Yoast SEO plugins. With Yoast SEO, the XML sitemap is created automatically when installed. On a WordPress website, you can locate it on the sidebar by clicking XML sitemap on the install.

Sitemaps can be disabled or enabled depending on your preference on the website. There should be a good reason why anyone would want to disable this tool. You can do all sorts of editing, addition and removal of posts or other pages on your XML sitemap settings. Sitemaps can be categorized on Users/Authors, Taxonomies and on post types, among others.

Implementing your XML sitemap

It is clear a sitemap is important because of its SEO benefits. Keep in mind that Google finds it easier to access your content when they are added to an XML sitemap. This also lets Google find any updates when they are made.

An XML sitemap helps search engines like Google crawl your website efficiently. Implementing a sitemap for a website comes with some benefits, as highlighted. 

Working to create a structured XML sitemap? Write a line or two down below; we'd love to know your experience.

Posted 27 September, 2017


Software Developer

Lucy is the Development & Programming Correspondent for Freelancer.com. She is currently based in Sydney.

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